Should I choose clinically focused social work as a career?
There are more than 250,000 clinical social workers in America. They are the largest group of mental healthcare providers in the country.
If you are considering going into social work, you may be wondering whether you should specialize in clinical social work. How does it differ from ordinary social work, and does it offer any advantages? What does a clinical social worker do, and how do you qualify to become one?
What is a clinical social worker?
A clinical social worker deals with health, especially mental health. They deal with emotional and mental issues that affect their clients. Those suffering from addiction, for example, are assigned clinical health workers rather than direct health workers.
When they specialize in clinical work, they are taught how to assess and diagnose, treat, and prevent mental illnesses and other behavioral problems.
Typical problems they deal with include depression and anxiety, trauma, PTSD, poor self-esteem, grief, self-harming, and eating disorders. They also deal with marital problems, child abuse, and neglect, and they even help people make important life transitions.
Clinical social workers are given a specific additional license by the state to practice. After they complete their training and gain a license they are known as licensed clinical social workers or LCSWs.
Because every client has unique mental health issues, licensed clinical social workers tailor their approach. They take the time to understand the issues and causes so that they can come up with a treatment approach that works.
A clinical social worker needs the support of other health professionals to help their clients. They also need buy-in from families and communities to deliver solutions that work in the long term.
What does a licensed clinical social worker do?
The particular duties of a clinical social worker vary depending on their clientele. However, there are certain tasks they are expected to carry out for everyone in their caseload:
- It is their job to evaluate client behavior and assess their treatment needs so that they can come up with an appropriate course of treatment. Imagine, for example, that they are dealing with an addict. They will assess what triggers their need for alcohol or drugs. Maybe they are trying to deal with a difficult situation at home or work. They may be in a bad relationship. They could be in an environment where drugs and alcohol are freely available. After determining what is causing their addiction, they will design a course of action to eliminate it and replace it with better behaviors.
- They need to develop good, working relationships with their clients and families. Sometimes the best help for those with mental health issues comes from those who are closest to them. A good social worker develops those relationships and gets family and friends involved when necessary.
- A clinical social worker also diagnoses psychological and emotional disorders. This is a particularly important service for families that don’t have easy access to diagnostic services for mental health. A clinical social worker can diagnose their children and teenagers and get them started on treatment plans. They also advise on the best ways to cope.
- Clinical social workers implement treatment plans. It is not enough for them to diagnose mental, psychological, and emotional illnesses. They must also make sure that their patients are on the right treatments and are taking medication and other therapies as directed.
- They consult with doctors, therapists, and other specialists to get the best treatment for their clients. They can also refer them to a professional as they see fit.
- A licensed clinical social worker is tasked with administering social service programs. It is not enough for them to diagnose and treat mental issues. They also have to do other types of social work. If, for example, one of their clients is an addict and their children are at risk, it is the job of the LCSW to relocate them until the parent gets better.
- Clinical social workers advise and work with families whose members are undergoing mental health treatment.
Who is the typical client of a licensed clinical social worker?
Most LCSWs work with individuals and communities that are impoverished in one way or another. Their typical client does not earn enough to afford other avenues of mental health care.
As a clinical social worker, some of your clients will include immigrants, juveniles and juvenile delinquents, people addicted to drugs and alcohol, those who identify as LGBTQ, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, and even those suffering from impoverishments that make life difficult.
Where do LCSWs work?
It is important to think about where you want to work because it can help you plan your career. If, for example, you want to work in the school system, you may get an advantage if you take an additional course in early childhood education. If you want to help addicts, you may get a job faster if you take an addiction-focused course to bolster your qualifications.
Numerous settings need clinical social workers. Many are employed by state child and family agencies. Others work in schools, and a good number of them are employed by public and private addiction facilities.
You can also get a job as a residential treatment professional, in rural healthcare, hospitals and hospices, and private practices.
How different is clinical social work from direct social work?
Social workers who do not specialize in clinical care are called “direct social workers”. There are some important distinctions between them and LCSWs:
- They provide clinical interventions to their caseloads. This means that they can diagnose mental illness and provide treatment strategies.
- LCSWs can become independent practitioners. So long as you have the right training and are currently licensed, you can start a treatment clinic or even work from home.
- They tend to earn more than direct social workers. Salaries differ from state to state, but as an LCSW, you can expect to make more.
- Since they are classified as mental health professionals, most of the services they offer are covered by healthcare insurance.
What courses should I take to become a clinical social worker?
After you get a high school diploma, you should get a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline. A bachelor’s in social work is an obvious place to start. If you decide to stop at a bachelor’s, there are still many job opportunities open to you.
You can become a community organizer, a probation officer, or a case manager. The course takes 4 years, but if you enroll in an online degree, you can do it in half that time.
After you complete your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to do a master’s degree in social work. Once you complete the required core courses, you will have a chance to choose an area of specialization.
This is your chance to choose clinical social work. These courses are also available online. They take about 2 years to complete, and you can work and study at the same time.
A clinically-focused MSW program, for example, covers all the modules you need to qualify as a clinical social worker. You learn about biological, social, and psychosocial development. Some modules cover diversity and culture as well as mental disorders, addiction, and trauma. You learn how to handle relationship difficulties.
Is a licensed clinical worker a doctor?
Not at all. An LCSW is not authorized to write prescriptions. All they are allowed to do is provide psychotherapy. If their clients need medication, they collaborate with the right professionals to help them obtain them. Many of them work with psychiatrists who are authorized to prescribe medications.
What soft skills do clinical social workers need?
In terms of soft skills, LCSWs are not very different from direct social workers:
- They should be empathetic.
- An LCSW must be highly observant. Many people hide mental illness for fear of stigmatization. Some will deny it because they don’t want to burden their families, lose their jobs or endure a change in family circumstances. As a clinical social worker, you must learn to observe signs of mental illness.
- LCSWs should be good listeners.
- They should be flexible and adaptable to other cultures. Different families and communities have different needs and require different approaches.
- A good LCSW must be able to handle their caseload without letting anything fall through the cracks.
- They should be comfortable working in different situations.
- A good clinical worker isn’t afraid to give advice where it is needed.
Clinical social work is a rewarding career that equips you to help people with mental health issues. Although it requires more training than direct social work, it pays more, and you can work in a variety of settings.
As you choose a course, confirm that the university you have in mind is accredited. It should give you enough support to help you graduate.
They also guide you on how to become a licensed practitioner. The clinically focused MSW program is a good example of a course that provides everything that you need to get started in this career.